Friday, 7 September 2012

The Trouble With Being 6' 6" And A Half - Stay Away From Tanks

Stopping at a petrol filling station last night brought not only a most unusual sight, but some unhappy memories as well. Parked at the HGV pump was not a truck or a bus or even a tractor, but a tank. A military tank. A soldier was was standing alongside, filling her up (if tanks are indeed female). It was a surreal sight which stopped other motorists in their tracks. People got out of their cars and gawped.

The soldiers were great. They posed with children for photos. 

'Is there a problem?' a customer asked the man behind the till.

'No. Why?'

'Seeing the tank, I thought that some of the locals might have got out of hand.'

'Aye,' said another who was waiting in line to pay. 'I remember Esso used to say Put A Tiger In Your Tank,  but this is going too far.'

Me? I thought about something completely different. I thought about the difficulty of being 6' 6" and a half, or 1.99 metres in newfangled language. There a tendency in today's world towards tallism and everything being catered for the average, the smaller and the wider. Low cost airlines, train companies, car manufacturers, clothing stores, shoemakers and many others make life difficult for us ganglier and heightened members of society.

The army too. Seeing that tank brought back horrible memories of the one time I drove a tank. It should have been one of the greatest excitements in life. The sheer exhillerance of being in control of such power, charging through the countryside, demolishing anything in my path.

Instead I got my knee wedged between joy sticks and the side of the tank, meaning that we went round and round, on the spot at speed, like some grotesque fairground ride. The Sergeant managed to claw his was onto the front, defying dizziness and poked his head into the driver's compartment and yelled:

'Turn the f***ing engine off, sir. Turn the f***ing engine off now.'

I couldn't reach the keys, so he had to do it. That was my one and only attempt. The Sergeant made it plain that he would resign if I ever set foot in any armoured vehicle again, in any way except as a passenger. Maybe it was a lucky break. 

I met one incredibly brave Soviet tank commander once, who found his position being overrun by the enemy and ordered his own guns to fire on him. Miraculously he was one of the few tanks which survived the bombardment, but the battle was won and he received a Hero of the Soviet Union medal. He was braver than one of his colleagues, who came over to do a publicity launch for a charity in the UK. Following the formality of the official ceremony in the boardroom at a well known company, one of the staff noticed that an old gold lighter, which had sat on the boardroom table for a hundred years, had disappeared. Many suspected it had found its way into the officer's briefcase and was taken back to Russia.

I do not know about modern day tanks, whether they have better legroom. I daren't go near them. My father's favourite song was ironically George Formby's Frank On His Tank:

'He does look a swank, does Frank on his tank,
He does look a swank, does Frank
See him dashing around with
The clickety-clickety-clank.....'

I felt I'd let him down a little. I was definitely no swank.

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